1st Amendment Sides Drawn

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Orlando, FL – Today [May 13], Liberty Counsel launched its 8th annual “Friend or Foe” Graduation Prayer Campaign. Liberty Counsel seeks to educate and, if necessary, litigate, to ensure that prayer and religious viewpoints are not suppressed during graduation ceremonies. Liberty Counsel will be a friend of schools that recognize the free speech rights of students and a foe to those that violate students’ constitutional rights. Liberty Counsel has published a free legal memo on graduation prayer which is available online at www.LC.org. Students are encouraged to wear Liberty Counsel’s red “I WILL PRAY” wristbands as a reminder to pray. Students have the constitutional right to wear religious jewelry and to pray during non-instructional times during the school day.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 requires that every local school district annually certify that it is not engaging in any policy or practice which interferes with constitutionally protected prayer. Schools may lose federal funds if they fail to comply with the guidelines.

In a precedent-setting case against the ACLU, Adler v. Duval County School Board, Liberty Counsel won the right of students to pray or give religious messages at graduation. The case went before a federal appeals court five times and to the U.S. Supreme Court twice. The case established the legal principle that public schools may adopt a policy that permits students or other speakers to present either secular or religious messages, including prayer, at commencement ceremonies.

In 2006, Liberty Counsel represented Megan Chapman, a graduating senior and class chaplain in Russell Springs, Kentucky, who found herself the subject of a court order forbidding her from praying during graduation. The order was obtained by the ACLU. The entire senior class reacted to the controversy by standing and reciting the Lord’s Prayer, after which Megan stepped to the podium and shared about what God meant in her life. After hearing about the situation, Dr. Jerry Falwell gave both Megan and her twin sister, Mandy, full scholarships to Liberty University. Their story was featured on a segment of CNN’s God’s Christian Warriors. Megan graduates from Liberty University this Saturday, May 15. She will begin law school in August at Liberty University School of Law.

Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: “Students do not lose their right to free speech when they step behind the podium at a graduation ceremony. Student speakers can thank their family, their friends and they can thank God. Religious viewpoints are protected by the First Amendment. School officials ought to remain neutral, neither forcing nor censoring student speech.”

This article is excerpted from a Liberty Counsel press release.